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First Do No Harm? Tort Reform and Birth Outcomes

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  • Janet Currie
  • W. Bentley MacLeod

Abstract

In the 1980s and 1990s many states adopted tort reforms. It has been argued that these reforms have reduced the practice of defensive medicine arising from excess tort liability. We find that this does not appear to be true for a large and important class of cases—childbirth in the United States. Using data from national vital statistics natality files on millions of individual births from 1989 to 2001, we ask whether specific tort reforms affect the types of procedures that are performed, and the health outcomes of mothers and their infants. We find that reform of the Joint and Several Liability rule (or the "deep pockets rule") reduces complications of labor and procedure use, whereas caps on noneconomic damages increase them. We show that these results are consistent with a model of tort reform that explicitly allows for variations in patient condition.

Suggested Citation

  • Janet Currie & W. Bentley MacLeod, 2008. "First Do No Harm? Tort Reform and Birth Outcomes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(2), pages 795-830.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:123:y:2008:i:2:p:795-830.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1162/qjec.2008.123.2.795
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • K13 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Tort Law and Product Liability; Forensic Economics

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